Mourinho linked to Madrid as Pellegrini feels the heat

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The Independent Online

The Real Madrid coach, Manuel Pellegrini, faces his former club Villarreal tomorrow and perhaps sometimes wishes he had never left. He was heavily criticised for the 1-0 defeat away to Lyons in the Champions League this week and woke up yesterday to stories of Jose Mourinho being lined up to take over from him at the end of the season.

For Pellegrini, exempt from praise when Real win and savaged when they don't, the strongest criticism has come from his immediate boss, Jorge Valdano. After the Lyons defeat Madrid's sporting director said: "It was a bad match for us because of the result and because of the image presented by the side. We just were not ourselves."

Hanging the coach out to dry has been seen as a clear indication Pellegrini will be dispensed with at the end of the season and Mourinho has a habit of baling after his second domestic title. He left Porto and Chelsea after securing two leagues and Internazionale look set to secure their second Scudetto this season.

"I will not play these games" he said when asked about the speculation in the build-up to Inter's home match with Sampdoria, preferring to concentrate on his side's last game before they face Chelsea in the Champions League next week.

Inter are seven points clear at the top of Serie A but Sampdoria have won their last four games and Mourinho confirmed he would not rest players.

In the absence of Samuel Eto'o at the Africa Cup of Nations, Diego Milito and Goran Pandev formed an impressive partnership up front, but Inter president Massimo Moratti has hinted he wants to see his big summer signing feature in the Champions League. He said: "The games against English teams are very difficult and it is important that Samuel wants to rediscover his form at just the right time and make sure Inter gets the victory."

Del Piero's loyal service

Badge kissers the world over bowed to Alessandro Del Piero this week after he clocked up 445 games in Serie A for Juventus to become the player who has represented the club the most times. He summed up his commitment to the club when he said: "Apart from the 445 games I have played in Serie A, I also played 31 in Serie B. And because of all the club means to me, it's those matches that are my biggest source of pride."

Fabregas needed now

The Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, takes charge of his 100th game for the club this week wishing he already had Cesc Fabregas to call upon. Barça have just two fit midfielders for the visit of Racing Santander and Guardiola will use either Rafa Marquez or Gerard Pique – both central defenders – as a holding midfielder to cover the absence of the injured Xavi Hernandez, Seydou Keita and Yaya Touré.

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